Featured

Who is Self Help Sunday?

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

 

I’m a mid-fifties northern Californian who retired in November 2015. I’ve always liked to write, but haven’t really written much creatively since 6th grade. Sixth grade was when I wrote a story in my AP English class and it garnered a bit of praise from the teacher. Writing that story was almost an out-of-body experience. I woke up with ideas and the writing process flowed.

I read that story recently, and I cringed just a bit. Well, I was only in 6th grade.

Writing has been part of my work life but has mainly been in the form of varying types of government communication: legislative and policy analysis, programmatic and fiscal guidance, and grants. I’m looking forward to just writing what I want and being myself – whoever that is.

Because I’m not always sure. I’m very fortunate to have retired at a young age and it sure beats working. However, it is a transition. I’m still in the process of figuring all of it out.

So this is one of the things I’ve wanted to do: start a blog. So here it is. #blogging101 #retirement #writing

Making holidays happen.

Who makes the holidays happen in your family and life? Lately, I’ve been a bit hyper-aware that it’s women. Most of my life, it was my mom who made things happen. She was the one who shopped and did the stockings, and decorated. We’d usually get some See’s candy and those Lifesavers storybooks. Does anyone remember those? I didn’t particularly care for them, but it was part of what Christmas was in our house.

When I was REALLY young, we’d be at my grandmother’s house in Kansas. My aunt and uncle were cool intellectual types and would get us matching jammies from someplace chic like Bloomingdale’s. This is what I was told, not what I remember!

PICT0072.JPG

When my parents first moved to NC in 1983, they’d give a big party at our house before Christmas. My mom had help, but I know it was stressful and hard for her, being very introverted and somewhat socially phobic. Later in life when my mom got sick, my dad was pretty good about holidays and birthdays. He liked giving gifts, and he liked Christmas. While it was stressful for us to go back there to visit every year, I miss it now that he’s gone. Somehow, he got into Tiffany (!) and I have several nice necklaces from there, mainly the Elsa Peretti heart necklace. I saw this necklace recently and know that if Dad was alive, he’d get it for me for Christmas.

What I notice being out and about is that it’s usually women who are shopping and wearing the holiday sweaters and jewelry. Preparing for family and work gifts, for the meals. The men are usually tagging along, pushing the cart or looking lost (or in some cases, annoyed). I told my husband several times he has it easy. I’m the one who gives gifts to our vet, my doctor, my hairdresser, I’m preparing cash for our pet-sitter while we’re gone to San Diego and remembered to pick up some nice coffee and a candle for his brother and SIL (whom we are staying with).

This time of year can be fun and also difficult. So much pressure if you let it. I try not to. I try to plan during the year and keep it simple for the few people I do give something to. I’ve been sad a lot this year, missing my dad. I was with my sisters last night – my older sister wanted us to get together, so we went over to their house. KT decided to make veggie chili so he’d have something to eat, and it ended up being the main course. I brought mini-bundt cakes for dessert. Although I’ve said I’d prefer a gift certificate rather than “stuff” my sister got me a bunch of things that while thoughtful, aren’t what I’d use or need. I’m trying to clean stuff out, not accumulate more! I gave both of them gift cards, a book, and a shirt.

My sisters are gathering again for Christmas. My aunt (mom’s sister) has made a big deal of flying out here from Indianapolis for the past couple of years to spend the day with us. My cousin lives in LA so they fly there and then drive up. In 2014, we were all together and my aunt asked if there was anything she could do to help my mom. I said, well, you could go visit her. My aunt drives to SC to see my cousin a lot so goes right by where my mom lives, and travels a lot for fun. She said she would but she never has. It has really bugged me for a while, and I’m working hard not to let it.But it doesn’t mean I want to spend time with her or my cousin. My cousin and uncle drink too much and they have very different political views. I’m at the point in my life where I don’t feel the need to spend time with people, even family, if I don’t feel like it.

So I’m hoping to get some rest over the next few days, read, and go for some walks. I hope all of you are able to have the holiday(s) that you wish for. Peace and light.

christmas-clipart-graphicsfairy009b

Scents and Sadness

I have several pieces of clothing that are my dad’s. After he died in 2013, I went through a really bad period in my life. In addition to grieving, a bunch of other things happened, one after the other, and I became extremely depressed and anxious. For more than a year, I wasn’t very functional. I still went to work, but life was pretty bad.

I spent a lot of energy trying to hide my sadness, especially from my husband. Because I was working hard at fighting my depression, I would spend time almost every evening listening to a guided meditation or CD to help me relax. It also was a great chance for me to cry without me feeling like I was effecting my husband.

One of the things I would do would be to go to the closet and smell one of Dad’s shirts. It’s a short-sleeved cotton shirt, with stripes, that he used to wear during the summer. It smells like him and I would hold it to my nose and breathe him in. You don’t think about these things until you lose someone; that they have a certain smell that you will never smell again, just like you won’t hear their voice or feel them hug you.

I also have a sweater that used to hang on the back of his chair in his office. His assistant was cleaning out his office (thank God) and would send me and my sister’s stuff in the month’s following his death. This sweater came in one of the packages and also reminds me of him. It’s kind of Christmas-y, with maroon and green cotton yarn, and he’d wear it when we would visit at that time of the year.

I also have a cap that he wore. He’d put it on when we’d go out, again, during the winter when we’d visit at Christmas. Since I doubt he ever washed it, it definitely smells like him!

So today I’m missing him terribly. I opened the closet, and breathed into the shirt. I panicked a bit, since it had lost some of its scent. Then there it was, on the collar.

I’ve put it into a storage bag. Not to keep anything out; to keep the smell of my dad in.

march-april-2012-030

One Year of Retirement – A few things I’ve learned.

A year ago on November 9, I retired from 26+ months of state service. The past year has understandably been a time of transition for me and my husband – more so than I think I anticipated.

On Facebook, I wrote down some thoughts about what I had learned in the first six months of retirement. The second six have brought even more illumination to this new life I now life. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned here on the blog.

  • Even though everyone says that retirement is a big change and words like transition and phrases like “finding yourself “are bandied about… I am continually surprised that it is hard. And I don’t feel particularly safe saying this to a lot of people, unless they are also retired. Because most people will TELL you rather than ask you …Isn’t it wonderful? I’m so jealous! I’m hoping to retire …. And they are off telling you their plans rather than asking you what it’s like. But when you think of it, it’s a bigger change than a lot of the other ones you go through in the course of life. I’ve gone to work every day for the past 30+ years (if you add in working in high school, college, grad school, etc) and so NOT working feels kind of weird.
  • Time seems to go by faster than when I was working. And I am aware and more conscious of how precious it is. Maybe because I have more choice about how I spend it, I feel kind of anxious sometimes that I am missing out and that I should be doing a class or more volunteer work or traveling more.
  • Ironically, I feel that sometimes I WASTE time more than before. In my life, I was taught and placed a high value on being productive. I am a list maker. So when there are days like today, when I meet someone for lunch and hit the store and that’s pretty much it…well, I feel kind of lazy. Or like yesterday, I spent some time watching carpool karaoke on YouTube.
  • On the other hand, I am giving myself a bit more slack not to cram so many things into one day that it stresses me out. When I was working, it was a regular occurrence to run errands at lunch and stop at the store on the way home. I did and did and did all of the time. It broke me. I have taken a friend’s routine to heart: she tries to only schedule one thing a day. Today was a biggie for me: I went to the gym, volunteered at the library AND met a friend for lunch.
  • I am less organized than I was before. I don’t have a work calendar to ground me and haven’t quite gotten the hang of just using my phone. So I use that, and a small paper calendar. I originally bought a big one, like I used to use for work, but realized I didn’t need it. But for someone who prides herself on being on time and not losing things, I am late to meet people at times, and have lost stuff. It kind of bugs me.
  • Either my house is dirtier or I’m just noticing it now that I’m home more. Or it’s Pinterest. When I was working, the basics got taken care of. Clean clothes, groceries, bathrooms scrubbed. Floors every couple of weeks when they got to me. Since I retired, I have cleaned the blinds in the kitchen, the fan over the stove, and the floor under the fridge. That last one was particularly horrifying. There’s a schedule on Pinterest that says how often you are supposed to clean things in your house. Apparently, the blinds and the fridge coils are every 6 months. Well, suffice to say, we’ve bought the fridge and the blinds in 2009 and they were cleaned for the first time about 2 months ago. The irony is that even though I have more time,  I’m less motivated than ever to clean.
  • I gained 20 pounds give or take since retiring. One of the things I’ve really liked about retirement is that I can work out when I want to. I typically do something after breakfast – walk or run, gym, etc. Much better than at 5:15 before work. But regular workouts have not offset the weight gain. And I think I know why. First, when I first retired, there was a feeling of WHOO HOO – permanent vacation! I’ll stay up as late as I want! I’ll drink wine every night! It’s the holidays! Oh boy, everyone wants to schedule lunch with me!! Well, the piper gets paid big time when you are doing all THAT all of the time. Plus, a stress fracture. I got one in my left tib/fib in late March, effectively squelching my plans to run 2 other half marathons in the spring. Because I really need to exercise, I tried to do other things that didn’t really let it heal. Finally – I think I’m just less active on a daily basis. While working, I’d walk to and from my car at the beginning and ending of the work day; up and down stairs to meet with colleagues; to and from the bathroom; a walk around the block for break or during lunch. I didn’t have a steps counter then, but think it added up to greater daily physical activity.
  • Clutter and stuff. The struggle is real and it also contributes to me feeling stressed. We have it. And I have my parents after cleaning out my dad’s house after he died in 2013. And my in-laws and my husband’s. I’m trying to pare down, get rid of it. Somehow I don’t seem to make much progress and seem to make more of a mess while I’m trying.
  • Contributing to the clutter is a seismic shift in what I wear. I’m not quite ready to get rid of some of my nicer skirts, jackets, shoes. Even though I’m not likely to wear them again. I finally caved and donated a trunkful of stuff last week. I do kind of miss putting an outfit together in the morning; I like jewelry and coordinating things. But given the weight gain (see above) I tend to be living a bit in stretchy things.
  • I don’t miss work. I thought I would. I was very work-focused, and fairly passionate about what I did. But I don’t miss it— sitting in a cubicle, being subject to the drama that is inevitable in any workplace or community. I don’t miss the commute. Meetings, yuck. Fast turnaround assignments that end up not being used or changed so dramatically I wonder why I bothered to include footnotes and format the damn thing. Especially when it involved a school shooting. Last year, I was pretty demoralized when a shooting occurred at a local college last year and there wasn’t any real acknowledgement by the administration that this tragedy had occurred. I was getting very burned out at the new “normal” of this sort of thing.
  • I miss some of the daily interaction with people but this doesn’t surprise me. I liked my co-workers and have found that throughout my career, most state employees are dedicated, passionate, and hard-working – despite the bum rap we get. But It hasn’t surprised me that people say they will stay in touch and then don’t. I get it. When I was still working and had friends that retired, I was so consumed with the daily hamster wheel that I wasn’t always good about staying in touch, especially the last two years I was working. I am in touch with the friends who want to spend time with me but have found that over time, people don’t stay in touch very well. And, as time goes by, I have less in common with those who are still working. AND I find I pickier about who I am willing to spend my valuable time with .
  • I have been a bit surprised that I am never bored. Sometimes, when I meet people and they learn I am retired, they say “Oh I couldn’t retire, I would be bored.” I feel bad for them. Work isn’t everything and I’m really glad to discover it doesn’t define me. I’m surprised that I don’t read more. I love to read. I just have found there are lots of things that I like to do and I get to choose how I spend my time and am able to do what I want and when I do it. I love being able to get up and eat breakfast and then get my workout in, instead of doing it at 0-dark thirty. I have re-discovered the joy of yard work. I like planting things, weeding, puttering. Seeing what’s growing. There are always projects that I can find to do and just for the heck of it, I spray-painted a small plant holder. I bought two old metal chairs for the backyard and am looking forward to re-finishing them. I bought an adult coloring book and enjoy coloring in it. I am trying new recipes for us to eat that are plant-based and healthy. I am looking forward to travel more than I thought I would and took a trip to France in July of this year. And of course, I love that I have more time to spend with our two cats.
  • I am surprised that I frequently ask myself how I did it all before. I still manage things for my mom, bills, communicate with her providers, etc. There is something almost every day that requires my attention, for her, or for our bills. The past two days, I have dealt with a bill that was paid but went to collections anyway, and some tax forms that need to be re-done. That I had even MORE to do right after my dad died and I still worked full-time astounds me (and makes me really tired — see below!)
  • I heard from others who had retired that you are really tired for the first couple of months. This is true. I have found that it isn’t every day, but there are days that despite enough sleep, I wake up tired and feel exhausted throughout the day.
  • I am deeply grateful that I have time to take care of myself – time to exercise, eat well, get enough sleep, meditate and create. I’m glad that I finally got started on this blog though I am still in the process of figuring out what I want to write about and share here. I also blog regularly on Sparkpeople so sometimes write there instead of here.

Well, time to hit publish on this. I’ve been playing with it for a week, since the one year anniversary came and went. I also had the idea that I’d write on Sundays, but that doesn’t seem to happen (yet!).

Thanks for reading. If you’re retired and any of this resonates, let me know!img_3237

 

Visiting my mom

Last week, I visited my mom who lives out of state in a facility.  She has lived in this one since April 2013, the same year my dad died. He was in the process of making plans to move into the same place, which has a continuum of services from independent living (apartments and houses) to nursing. At that time, my mom was in assisted living. Because of a stroke and the re occurrence of blood clots (in legs and lungs), she is now in skilled nursing. My dad died before he could officially move into his apartment.

My mom has dementia. It’s not Alzheimer’s which most people assume when you say dementia, though as time goes on, people tend to be a bit more educated than when she first acquired this awful disease. She has an autoimmune type so is on a routine of low-dose steroids that her brilliant physician manages by tweaking the dose now and then.

People still ask me if she knows me, and this time, I honestly couldn’t say. She didn’t seem confused about who I was, but did not call me by name or seem particularly glad to see me. Generally, she has gotten to the point of being pretty non-interactive. She has always liked to read, though now it seems like she does this as a habit. She will pick up whatever reading material is around and flip through it. It’s hard to tell if she is really comprehending the information.

My parents have lived in the area since 1985 and I spent time there in graduate school so it’s kind of like going home. And because my dad is no longer there, it can be sad.  It’s the same place, but different, without him there. The house where I spent a lot of time has been sold, and now when I visit my mom, I stay in a guest room at the facility. It’s actually better that this place is a bit outside of town, so there aren’t quite as many reminders.

Seeing my mom with her limitations is always hard. She can’t do much for herself. She can’t walk anymore and I’m not sure she can even stand without help. The staff now uses a lift to move her from her place to place – wheelchair, sitting chair, even to the toilet. It’s like a hoist and she’s on it as they move it into the bathroom. It feels dehumanizing even though I know it is used for her safety and the staff’s.

I have always wondered if she really knows what’s going on. If I talk, does she understand what I’m saying? Does she know that she has all of these illnesses? Is she lonely? There are glimpses of her personality. Once, when I was saying good night, she asked, “do you need anything?” Like I was staying at their house, and had come to visit, as if she was hosting me and wanted to make sure I had towels or something to eat. Still my mom. I tell her I love her a lot and kiss her head. When I left, I stroked her head again and again. She has soft hair and I also don’t think she is touched a lot other than practicalities, like toileting her, dressing her, etc. I tried not to cry when I was leaving or at least let her seem me. But I did.

So what does this have to do with retirement? Well, since I retired, I’ve felt like time is more and more precious. The days seem to go faster, whether I’m busy with a bunch of stuff or whether I spend several hours binge-watching a series, like I did yesterday with my husband. I’m thankful that when I visit my mom, I have the space to recover from the visit instead of heading right back to work. I’m able to visit a bit more often, instead of finding time between work demands to fit a visit in. And it’s a reminder of my own mortality. None of us know the future. I do wish my mom, and my dad, had had more time. But then how much is enough, really?

 

A few of my favorite things

This will go into the category of first world problems. But this week, I found out two of my “things” are no longer being made.

It is not the end of the world. These THINGS are not critical medications. They are things, not people, and I know for sure that losing people (and animals) is way worse. So what made me pout this week? Finding out that Jockey Stay-Cool sleepshirts and Estee Lauder’s Pleasure Delight perfume are no longer a thing.

I first discovered the Jockey shirts when I was going through menopause and was also on medication that gave me night sweats. I often woke up drenched in the middle of the night, fumbling around for another shirt to change into and a sheet to lay on the bed where it was saturated with my sweat. Not pleasant. So I happened upon these shirts at the Jockey Outlet, bought a few, and never looked back.

Since I have about 5 or 6 of these, I decided it was time to go get a few more. Several of the ones I have are getting holes in them and are a bit stretched out. So this week when I was out at the mall, I stopped in….only to find out they aren’t making them anymore! Even the woman working there was disappointed – she herself was wearing one. Heavy sigh.

Less critical is finding out that one of the perfumes I like ALSO isn’t being made anymore. I found Pleasures Delight   a few years ago, and bought a bottle at Costco. Yes you can find perfume at Costco – on occasion! I didn’t wear perfume while working, since I sat near someone who has a perfume sensitivity as does my therapist. Now that I’m retired, I like to wear it and noticed the bottle is getting a bit low. Only to find out they don’t make it anymore! I’ve worn a few others, including Lolita Lempicka recently bought one from Talbot’s. I’m kind of picky about perfume and except for Romance, haven’t really followed the popular ones. I find some of them too cloying and sweet smelling.

So that’s what’s happening this week. Not too exciting. As I said, not the end of the world. Like many things, something else good will come along. I have faith.

Do you have a favorite perfume? Sleep shirt?

A Day in the Life

So what’s it like to be retired? I’m still figuring it out. But one thing I’ve done is volunteer. Specifically, at my local library.

It sort of happened organically. Every year, the local library’s Friends of the Library group has a big book sale. I always attend, and the past couple of years, I’ve been asked to help with the sale. Since I’m working, this was never an option since the sale runs from Thursday – Saturday. And up until recently, Saturdays were for long runs.

So when they called this year, I said sure! My husband and I signed up for a shift, and headed to the church where the sale is held. Honestly, they didn’t really need us. Neither of us could lift books or move anything heavy (he has a back issue and I was battling a stress fracture) so we basically wandered around and organized the books on the tables. But what came of that was more opportunities to volunteer.

There was a need to help sort books to sell on Amazon. This is one of the ways that the Friends group makes money to support programs at the library. Genius, right? People bring in books to donate, and likely candidates are sorted for us to look up on Amazon. Some of the volunteers aren’t too comfortable with computers, so I was happy to assist. It is always a bit of surprise what sells. Yesterday, I looked up a book called “Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry.” It was an older edition, and believe it or not, commands about $15! So it went into the Amazon box.

So that’s one thing I’ve done since retiring. I go in about once a week, and am slowly getting more involved with that group. The funds raised support children’s programs, after school tutoring, and other things are in the works. One of the people I met there is also retired, and I enjoy talking to her. She worked for 30 years in the nursing field, and is also sort of figuring things out. I love the library. Always have!

Thanks for reading!

Remembrance.

I have come to think of September 11 as the date that many of my generation remember the way our parents remembered Kennedy’s assassination. I was only 2 years old when President Kennedy was shot so of course don’t remember it.

But I remember September 11, 2001. I was getting ready for work and eating breakfast. My husband was out of town (New Mexico) doing a training. I heard that a small plane had crashed into one of the twin towers. I don’t watch TV in the morning, so just heard the news. Got to work, and then everyone was talking about what had happened. Immediately, I was concerned about my husband, and also, there was a concern that a plane or other terrorist attack would target California’s state Capitol. Finally, after several hours, the administration let us leave. I was pretty freaked out.

My husband rented a car along with two other people and drove home. No other way; the planes were grounded. It was really eerie not having any planes flying overhead.

I also recall wondering if my mom knew what was going on. In late March, she had been hospitalized with weird symptoms and behavior that ultimately led to her diagnosis of frontotemporal lobe dementia (an autoimmune type). I was only about 6 weeks into my 40th year when I lost my mom to that disease. My sister didn’t have a brain tumor, my husband didn’t have heart problems. Our cat was our first, a big tabby named Gabby that I had adopted while in graduate school in North Carolina.

I don’t know where I was with my weight. It’s been a struggle and issue since I was about 12-13 years old and my mom made a comment (probably innocently) about me being fat. Since she struggled with her weight and was also anorexic for a time, it isn’t surprising that I have this issue in my life.

I had dreams for a while after 9/11 about planes going into buildings. I went through a period of being extremely afraid to fly; but with my mom’s illness, as well as work, I had to fly a good amount of the time so learned to deal with it. Terrorism? Well, when I would talk about our trip to Paris, some people would say they wouldn’t go overseas because of terrorism. My response: well, look at what happened in San Bernardino. And I wasn’t about to NOT go, since barely 2 years ago I could barely get out of bed let alone contemplate a big trip overseas. So I wasn’t about to let that stop me.

So here I sit, listening to my favorite Pandora station (classical for studying) and updating my blog on Spark. I got to go to yoga today, and my husband worked out in the gym while I was in class. We went to breakfast after, then to the 99 cent store. I’m fortunate that I’m able to buy salad there and periodically they have really good bread. My husband has big plans to decorate for Halloween, so he stocked up on spiders and other creepy things. It’s another beautiful day, much like that other September day 15 years ago. Be safe, be at peace, take some time to contemplate.